A Wealth of Knowledge

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“The sharing and exchange of knowledge is easier now than it has ever been in human history.”

There has been no other time in human history than in today’s era where the average person with access to the Internet can seemingly have unlimited amounts of information available to him or her. When you truly think about the magnitude of it, untold amounts of data are being created every day. According to IBM, “The current estimate is 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day and over 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years alone.”

A common response nowadays from both family and friends when I ask a question to them about a random query is not a straight-forward answer but rather an off-handed suggestion to “Google it.” Living in this era of ‘Big Data’ can be quite overwhelming to the average person but one could also look into it as an opportunity to gain knowledge and further ones’ understanding on a limitless amount of subjects with the simple click of a mouse. The Internet is an amalgamation of thousands of libraries of Alexandria at the beck and call of one’s fingertips.

Compared to past ages when information and knowledge was more exclusive and harder to come by, today’s era allows everyone with an Internet connection to search and find information to their heart’s content. Instead of going to a library to find what you need on a subject, websites like Google, Wikipedia, and other online encyclopedias have largely replaced the main role of the physical library. I remember when I was younger and in my high school days having to seek out certain books in order to write a research paper or complete a book report.

However, now more than ever, you can easily find the sources of information you need online in order to facilitate your research and evidence. While I love libraries and hope that they never go out of style, the reality is that online encyclopedias and eBooks are largely replacing their original purpose. In order for libraries to stay relevant, they need to start incorporating computers, free Wi-Fi, and technical classes in order to remain useful.

From the 18th to the 20th centuries, universities and colleges across America were the standard bearers and purveyors of higher education. Originally for the elite, wealthy, and well connected, those students who were able to get accepted and afford undergraduate and graduate studies believed that they would have an advantage in the job market and in achieving the American Dream. More recently, as colleges and universities have become more inclusive than exclusive, tuition prices have inversely risen as well.

While higher education has become accessible to more and more young Americans, it also has become more expensive especially over the past decade. These events have led to an ongoing debate as to whether college is really worth the price tag and whether the average student gains anything from earning a four-year degree. With student loan debt at an all-time high of $1.3 trillion in 2015 in the United States and tuition rates at both public and private universities continuing to rise, people are beginning to look for alternatives to the current higher education system.

Over the past decade, there has been a drastic proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) provided by both private companies and traditional universities. At a much lower price and sometimes free, people from all over the world can sign-up for these courses and partake in lectures, tests, quizzes, and papers as if they were actual enrolled undergraduate and graduate students at the physical form of the university. As the credentials and certifications bestowed upon these courses continue to increase and become more widely accepted, we may begin to see ‘the end of college’ as we know it.

Examples like Khan Academy, edX, Coursera, Udacity, etc. and other MOOCs have leveled the playing field. Tech entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley have allowed students from all over the world to access unlimited online courses to further their academic knowledge at a lower price. With the subsequent rise in online university programs for undergraduates and graduates, the physical college experience of dormitories, lecture halls, football stadiums, etc. may become less appealing to students as tuition prices continue to increase. While the social and networking benefits of college life are numerous, they may not be enough to compete with this era of free information that we are living in.

Compared to past decades, we’re living in a time when access to the Internet is at an all-time high and is increasingly rapidly due to the rise of mobile technology. Traditional havens of knowledge such as the library or the public university will have to adapt to stay relevant in this unlimited information age. In a worldwide job market that is evolving rapidly and where the average child today will work in an industry not yet created, the free exchange of knowledge must continue to spread through the worldwide web.

Countless others and I have benefited from taking online coding courses on ‘Codeacademy’ to learning new languages on ‘Duolingo.’ As MOOCs and online universities continue to develop their courses and credentials, we may begin to see an era where the average person can earn a degree or two without breaking the bank. MOOCs are cheaper, less time intensive, and can adapt more easily to the rapidly changing employment market.

A well-educated population is now more possible now than ever with the wealth of knowledge and information that is available. That fact is evident but it also is up to the individual to be willing to search for that information and actually apply it. Instead of getting frustrated with people asking me to ‘Google’ the answer, I find that it’s worth the hassle because it’s often true that I will find the answers I’m looking for and in greater detail than if I were to ask a friend or family member for a quick description. That’s the power of the Internet. That’s the wealth of knowledge that we are able to take advantage of.

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First and Last Projects

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“Teamwork makes the dream work.”

As apart of my training program to become a Volunteer for Peace Corps – Colombia, my fellow trainees and I have worked hard over these past weeks and months in developing and implementing mini-projects in partnership with our community here in different ways.

Overall, there have been three community projects that we have been working on over these past two months. All of us trainees together have worked on a ‘Limpieza La Comunidad’ or ‘Cleaning up the Community’ project with local citizens in an effort to make the parks and the local river here cleaner and safer for everyone. So far, we have conducted two clean-ups so far during the weekends which have at the central park of our town and then most recently at the ecological park and the area near the football stadium.

It has been a real joy to work with the young people of the community especially. The children and teenagers, who have helped us with the clean-up process the most. They have been extremely enthusiastic and willing to pitch in to assist and work with us. I have worked with one child in particular, named Jesus, age eight, who has helped me specifically with picking up the trash and sweeping the leaves. For both times where we have had our clean-up project in different parks, Jesus has been there to be my partner and help me with my big trash bag. I hope that after we leave for our volunteer sites in mid-April that the children, teenagers, and young people of our current community will become the next leaders of this clean-up effort and will continue these projects and make a sustainable difference in their town.

In addition, my colleagues and I have been able to create two mini-projects related to English education here in the community. A few of my fellow trainees have started a ‘reading buddies’ after-school program where they have read books alongside children and teenagers over the past couple of weeks. Others and myself have worked hard to create a community English class based around conversation lessons that have taken place on Thursday nights and during the weekends.

My fellow trainees and I have split the hours of teaching between ourselves and now provide about three hours a week between the three of us in giving conversational lessons in basic English to those members of the community who want to learn and expressed sincere interest to us in attending our classes. I have been very pleased with the turnout for my community class on Thursday nights and the hard work, engagement that my students have had so far for learning conversational English.

Eight adults showed up for my first class last week and I hope that they will continue coming to class over the next few weeks. For this program, I also hope to designate a leader(s) to continue having English classes within the community. If possible, I will select an adult with the English skills necessary in order to teach his fellow Colombians and keep the class going into the future. I always think back about how lucky I was in the past to pursue my passion for foreign languages and how I was able to take Turkish and Arabic classes at night and also attend Spanish conversation groups as well. It has been great giving that same opportunity to those adults interested in learning my language and developing their conversational proficiency.

Lastly, my fellow trainees and I have successfully completed recently two separate training sessions for the English teachers in our community. The topics have focused around creating speaking and listening activities for their students in an interactive way, as well as working on the pronunciation of difficult sounds in the English language. Both ‘charlas’ or teacher training sessions have been well attended; the teachers were enthusiastic about sharing what they had learned from us and applying this knowledge in their classrooms for the future.

As our first projects finish up over the next few weeks, I can say that we made a meaningful impact in our community during our training program. Each of the trainees has worked hard, provided a lot of time and effort, and have developed good relationships with the local community too. I believe that we can hold our heads up high as we head into April 2016 and the beginning of our formal volunteer service here in Colombia.

Staging and Arrival in Barranquilla

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The day has finally come and I have made it safely to Colombia. It has been an extremely eventful week so far and I am very happy to be apart of the CII-8 volunteer trainee group as apart of the U.S. Peace Corps. Everyone in my cohort has been extremely friendly and helpful so far and I look forward to training with them over the next three months so that we can be sworn in as official Volunteers serving in Colombia. It’s a real pleasure for me to meet all of the great people from around the United States who have committed themselves to the Peace Corps for the next 27 months.

The only bad part of this trip so far was the rather tedious and stressful flight from New York to Miami on American Airlines which provides much better international service than domestic service. I arrived in Miami on Monday afternoon after a tumultuous morning but I was happy to be reunited with a good friend of mine from college who showed me around the Miami Beach area.

The anticipation and excitement had caused me to lose sleep over these past few days and that built up to a crescendo when I arrived to the hotel on Tuesday morning for ‘Staging’ with the other volunteers-to-be. After a long day of orientation, icebreakers, and getting to know my fellow invitees to Peace Corps Colombia, I capped off the ‘Staging’ event by going to an excellent Cuban restaurant called “La Rosa” which I would recommend to anyone reading this blog. Fantastic food and a great atmosphere.

Finally, the moment had arrived yesterday when we gathered our many bags and backpacks and headed off together to the Miami Airport. After checking-in, going through security, and arriving at the gate, we were on our way to Colombia. Compared to my usual flights overseas, this was extremely easy to handle as it was only a 3-hour flight and the service, hospitality is much improved for an international trip from American Airlines thankfully.

Since arriving, the other invitees and I have been extremely busy with meetings, paperwork, and briefings designed to help ease our transition into life in Colombia. This is necessary for us to all take part in because this weekend, we will be moving out to small pueblos outside of Barranquilla to begin our three months of technical and language training before we can be sworn-in as official volunteers.

I am extremely grateful and pleased with the support of all of the staff and the current Peace Corps volunteers. Those currently serving have been a great resource to us in answering our questions and helping us out. I was especially pleased with how enthusiastically and warmly we were greeted at the airport by the current staff and volunteers here in Colombia.

Barranquilla seems like a very nice city from what I’ve seen so far and reminds me a lot of Miami although much more humid and down-to-earth. Thankfully, there is a very nice wind breeze coming in from the Caribbean Sea to the north of us so the hot weather is much more bearable during this month although this is likely to change in the Spring. This will only be a short-stay here in the city before we meet our Colombian host families for the next three months.

Lastly, I am excited to begin my training to become an official Volunteer and am committed to my mission and goals here in Colombia. It’s been a long journey to get to this point but I am ready for the work to begin and I am very happy to be here.

A New Adventure Awaits

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U.S. Peace Corps in Colombia – I’m excited to serve and ready for this journey to begin.

In just one week from now, I will begin my training to become a Volunteer for the United States Peace Corps in Colombia starting in mid-January of 2016. For my three months of training, I will be living in a town called Santo Tomas, which is about 45 minutes outside of Barranquilla. For my work and living situation, after I’m sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I will be located in a site close to the Atlantic Coast of Colombia close to the cities of either Barranquilla, Santa Marta, or Cartagena. The school where I will be teaching and the community that I will be living in has not been announced yet due to the fact that I haven’t completed my training yet.

This will not be my first time living overseas for an extended period of time. Previously, I lived in Istanbul, Turkey last year as an ESL teacher at a private high school. I also studied for a semester at Bogazici University in Istanbul as well when I was in college. My first overseas living experience occurred when I was 16 years old in Costa Rica where I studied Spanish for a summer there in a language homestay program. I have become quite comfortable with adjusting to a new lifestyle and territory by now. However, it still may take me a few months to adapt to the new culture and hot climate.

My family and my friends have been very supportive of my decision over the past year and a half to pursue service in the U.S. Peace Corps. It’s not easy to be away from your family and friends for a long period of time but they all know about the good work that I will be doing in Colombia. They understand the importance of volunteering and serving. I would not be where I am today without the support of my father, mother, and my brother especially. They have been great to me throughout the whole application and selection process.

My main project while serving in Colombia will be developing, and improving upon the ‘Teaching English for Livelihoods’ program. I hope to work with local Colombian teachers to advance the English curriculum and materials that they are using to teach the students. I believe that with hard work and effort, we can make real progress in creating an effective way of teaching English and improving the English proficiency levels of the Colombian students. I also would like to expand upon tutoring and after-school programs related to English learning and making sure that the students see learning English as fun and useful to them.

I look forward to being apart of a new school and a new community. I am excited to explore my surroundings and to learn about the Colombian culture and their customs. I will be very happy to work with my Colombian colleagues as well at the school and hope that I can make a real difference in improving the English level of the students that I hope to help during my service. I want to immerse myself in becoming fluent in Spanish, learning the local dances, and tasting the Colombian cuisine as well.

My motivation to join Peace Corps was because of a number of different factors. I had a desire to volunteer and serve a purpose greater than myself. I felt that I could contribute a lot to the Peace Corps’ Education sector given my previous background and experiences as an ESL teacher. I wanted to explore a new country and a new culture as well. Spanish was the first foreign language that I learned as well so I hope to use this exciting opportunity to become fluent and to connect more easily with the locals in my community. It was also important to me to volunteer and contribute to the wider world in some way. I hope I can be an example to other Americans who want to be part of something bigger than themselves but are not sure where to begin.

When I leave Colombia, I want to leave behind a school and community that is better off than it was before I arrived. My main goal is to help the local teachers to develop an effective English language curriculum that will last for many years after I depart them. I hope to foster better relations between Americans and Colombians through my actions and my relationships that I hope to build between our two peoples.

I wish to help as many students as possible with their English language skills whether its through tutoring, after-school programs, etc. so that they can become bilingual and have a brighter future. Above all else, I would like to make new, lasting friendships and to be considered an honorary member of their community by the time I leave.

I leave in less than a week and I’m excited to begin and complete my training over the next three months. All I have left is the final packing of my bags and I’m off to Miami for the staging event!

There will be a change of focus for my blog from this point forward as I will focus on writing about my experiences and adventures living in Colombia. I hope to write about the cuisine, customs, culture, and food of my adopted country for the next 27 months. I hope that you will follow me on this exciting journey. Thank you very much for your continuing viewership and support. (Muchas Gracias y Saludos para todos! Vamonos!)

A Short Guide to Teaching English Overseas

Teach English Abroad! I promise that you won’t regret it.
Teach English Abroad! I promise that you won’t regret it.

 This past year, I had my first teaching English as a foreign language overseas experience. I would like to give my loyal readers some insight into what it was like and I can also give you some tips/advice that I could have used when I first signed up to teach English in a foreign country.

 First of all, there’s a lot of different options when it comes to getting your teaching certificate. I would recommend taking either an online TEFL/TESOL course which would take about ten to twelve weeks and cost between $1,000-$1,500. If you want to go full-time and get it done quicker, you can most likely take an in-class course for about forty hours a week and be finished in about a month or so but it will cost you closer to $2,000.

I got my TEFL/TESOL certificate through the International TEFL Academy which is a great organization and you can find out more information about them through a simple Google search. I’ve had friends of mine sign up for a course both online and in-person and it paid off for them with real, good-paying jobs.

 Now, don’t be fooled because there are some organizations out there that are not legitimate and will try to rip you off. Between my Bachelor’s degree and my TEFL/TESOL certificate, I was good to go though and ready to apply to schools around the world. Be ready to work hard and do a decent amount of homework, and in-class training in order to achieve your TEFL certificate. It’s really easy to get good grades in your course as long as you put the effort and hard work in to earn your qualification. I believe the CELTA certificate is more advanced and could lead to more opportunities but I’m not sure how big of a difference it makes really.

 For example, if you’re an English teacher who is interested in teaching in Spain, the program that is sponsored by the Spanish government is a great option if you would like to teach English in Europe. Honestly though, besides Spain and Italy, not many Western European countries are going to pay you very well to teach English. If I were you, dear reader, I would look into Poland, Czech Republic, and/or Hungary if you’re feeling more adventurous.

There’s also Latin America, Southeast Asia, and other Eastern European countries but they don’t really pay too high if that is your main concern. China, Japan, and the Middle East are the biggest payouts even if you have just a TEFL Certificate and a Bachelor’s degree but the cultural differences are large and the living standards vary from country to country. I can’t tell you where to teach but if you do your research and talk to others about their experiences, you may have a better idea of where you want to go. It depends on your lifestyle and your cultural preferences.

 I chose to teach over the past year in Istanbul, Turkey because I was already familiar with the country and culture due to a previous experience living here a few years ago for my studies. I knew the language and the locals relatively well and I got a really good job offer to come here. Some schools will pay for your living accommodations which can help you in terms of saving money and being able to travel around Europe and elsewhere. Please make sure that you research about the school’s reputation and try to interview with them in person or through Skype before signing any paperwork/contracts. Be sure to look over the whole contract before signing on legally to a school for a year or more.

 There have been many young people who have been screwed over in the past because they did not read the fine print. Always make sure to know what you’re getting into in terms of salary, work permit, visa help, accommodations, etc. I was pretty happy with the choice I made although there were hiccups and missteps along the way. I had competing offers to work in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and elsewhere but I am content with where I chose to go. Lastly, eight weeks of paid vacation a year is a really good deal compared to most jobs out there on the market internationally.

 There are downsides to this lifestyle though in that the working culture can be quite different than you are used to and things often are done at a slower pace than Americans / Westerners are used to. Upper management at some schools can be frustrating to deal with at times and will have different work policies than the ones you’re used to in your native country.

Teaching English is a job like any other and it can be quite stressful and to teach children, you will need to develop patience and a lot of understanding. It’s not entirely a vacation from the real world as some folks make it out to be. I worked 40–45 hours a week and had to prepare lesson plans and help create exams. However, I had a great experience in getting a deeper understanding of Turkish culture, meeting new people, making new friendships, traveling when I could to different countries, and becoming a more mature and confident person. I lived comfortably on my local salary and I had free enough time where I could go out and socialize with my friends.

 For someone in their early 20’s, I think it’s a great thing to do and you’ll learn a lot about yourself and the world around you. Just do your research, think about what country fits you best, learn the language, and reap the benefits. It’s not easy moving and living in another country. It’s not for everyone too but if you’re adventurous and want to explore new places, I highly recommend it to all of you reading.

 If you have any other questions about teaching English as a foreign language, please feel free to message me or reply to this post. For more resources on getting a TEFL/TESOL certificate or finding a teaching English job, I would go to these websites, some of which I mentioned to you already above:

http://www.internationalteflacademy.com
http://www.tefl.com/
http://eslcafe.com/
https://www.teachaway.com/
http://www.tfchina.org/en/index.aspx
http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listing…road.shtml

Happy Hunting!

The Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language

“There’s so many languages to learn and so little time to master them. What are you waiting for?”

 Learning a foreign language often gets overlooked by those people who like to travel to different countries and have fun adventures, unique experiences but refuse to learn the local tongue while they are traveling. However, A large part of truly integrating yourself into a foreign culture when living overseas is to develop a working proficiency in the local language. When you make the effort to learn the language, it truly makes a difference both to those in the new community and/or country in which you’re residing. If you consider yourself to be a worldly person who likes to travel, you must also seek to become well-versed in foreign languages.

 The locals will respect you more and you also stand out from the other tourists and expatriates who only know the basic phrases and words even though some of them have been there for a longer period of time than you. Especially in a professional context, learning foreign languages makes you stand out in many different types of businesses and industries today. I’ve met so many people from around the world during my recent experience of living overseas who are very successful and are fluent in three to four global languages including English, French, Spanish, etc. One of my personal goals in life is to be fluent in three to four languages excluding my native tongue of English.

 I’ve been pretty successful thus far in developing a good proficiency in Spanish, Turkish, and with some basic knowledge of German and Arabic. I hope to keep improving my foreign language background as I go through my 20’s. One of the best things about language learning is that it’s never too late to start and to see how far you can develop your proficiency in it. I’ve heard that it does get harder though as you become older and that it takes more and more work to learn a foreign language starting in your 30’s and beyond. Even if you don’t want to really become fluent, it makes all the difference really in just having those basic 25–50 words and phrases that you learned and memorized before you head off for your travels to new countries and foreign locales.

 There are a lot of cognitive benefits to knowing more than one language and there is a lot of research to back this statement up. (For example; Source –http://www.actfl.org/advocacy/what-the-research-shows) It helps your mind stay sharp and it allows you to see the world in a different way. It’s hard to describe but by thinking in multiple languages, it makes your mind much more agile and able to think creatively, and to analyze thoughts much more deeply.

 I think that every person should learn a foreign language even if it’s just the basic phrases and sayings. There are so many free and cheap ways to learn a foreign language these days. For example, Duolingo is an excellent web application that is free to try and use. There are also many websites nowadays where you can hire a native speaker of a foreign language to tutor you in a private lesson for an hour for only $15–20 which is quite affordable.

 The fact that foreign language learning goes neglected sometimes in the United States is a real shame. However, regardless of where you’re from, even though you may have never picked another language up when you were younger doesn’t mean it’s not still possible.(http://qz.com/453297/many-european-kids-…cans-zero/) Hopefully, everyone who reads this blog entry will think hard and long about giving foreign languages another go of it and to make it part of your personal development. It’s challenging yet rewarding and there are many benefits to it, both professionally and personally.